Potatoes, Lettuce and Ice Put Divide on the National Map
Everyone has seen the bumper stickers that label Divide, Colorado as being “The Center of the Known Universe.”
Although this fact has never officially been proven, when looking at a map it is easy to tell that Divide lies pretty much in the center of Teller County, the center of Colorado, the center of North America, etcetera, etcetera. As a result, this infamous saying has much validity, despite the frequent jokes this phrase sometimes conjures up.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is people have been settling in the town that has never been incorporated since the 1800s. In the book “Discovering Ute Pass Volume II: Tales of Upper Ute Pass Woodland Park, Edlowe, Divide, and Midland” published by the Ute Pass Historical Society, the authors tell the story of the early settlers in the area.
According to the book, Divide “was a rough and remote place that offered westward-bound travelers the last chance to get provisions in Ute Pass.” “In her 1873 book ‘A Ladies Life in the Rocky Mountains,’ noted English traveler Isabella Bird described Hayden Divide as ‘a hideous place… a ghastly ride surrounded by interminable mountains in the deep snow, knowing that a party of 30 had been lost here a month ago,’” the book states.
Through the years, the small town has held various names. It was once called “Bellview,” “Theodore” where a telegraph station was once located, “Rhyolite” after a nearby mountain peak, “Hayden’s Divide” in the late 19th and early 20th century, and its current name of “Divide.”
The name “Hayden’s Divide” was coined after Ferdinand Hayden who spent over 20 years exploring the Rocky Mountains in the 1800s. When in the area, Hayden noticed that the region has a natural divide where water run-offs are split to the north, south, east and west at the geographical location of the town.
The early settlers in the area came to the region to ranch. They soon found that crops like seed potatoes and lettuce grew well in the climate.
In the 1870s, The Colorado Springs and South Park Stage Line came through the town prompting a stage coach station, hotel, and road houses for travelers to spring up. In 1887, the Midland Railway came through the area, and when gold was found in Cripple Creek in 1890, Divide started to boom.
Settlers in the town started building businesses like stores, boarding houses and saloons. Henry Nield and his family came to the town from Wisconsin in the late 1890s and opened up a meat market and the Nield Hotel that “had clean rooms and good food,” according to Discovering Ute Pass Vol. II.
In 1898, tragedy struck the new settlement when the town’s business district burned to the ground. Reports blame the blaze on a couple of boys who were playing with matches for starting the fire.
Businesses like Sadler’s General Merchandise Store, the Harkins’ Drug Store, the Hardy House, Kelly’s Saloon and Boarding House, and Creswell’s Saloon all succumbed to the blaze. However, by 1899 the town was already rebuilt.
Early Divide Businesses
Three years after the fire devastated the locals, the town’s business district once again had much to offer for residents and travelers. The town’s strip was home to places like Ma Kelly’s Boarding House The boarding house was owned by Mary Nield Kelly, who earned her nickname “Ma” from being the area’s midwife.
Benjamin Bonnell established the town’s first church by first holding services inside a local saloon. Bonnell would cover the bar, set up an altar, and roll out kegs for seats.
After his sermon, Bonnell would play the piano and everyone would dance. He then spent the money he earned at the services/dances to open up St. David’s Episcopal Church.
The town’s first school was constructed in 1903 on the corner of the main intersection at Hwys. 24 and 67. The school featured one teacher who taught students through 10th grade.
Divide’s Community Hall was built in 1928 to provide a place to hold social events and produce fairs. In 1952, the building burnt to the ground after a New Year’s celebration, but it was rebuilt shortly after and it still stands today.
Between 1910 through the 1930s, Divide was famous for its seed potatoes and lettuce the region produced. The town was even labeled “lettuce capital of the world” from the 1920s until the start of World War II.
In order to help get the lettuce shipped across the country, Alfred Coulson built the Divide Ice House on Coulson Lake just east of the town. Each year, thousands of tons of ice were taken from the lake and cut into squares in the winter time to be used as refrigeration during the summer months.
The ice was frequently used to pack the trains cars that were filled with lettuce and potatoes to keep the vegetables chilled. But, by 1949, the development of mechanical refrigeration methods killed the once thriving ice industry.
These days, Divide is still the home to various businesses including Russ’ Place, McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub and the Venture Foods Grocery Store. It has been said that Divide and its outskirts currently are populated by approximately. 4,000 people. This section of the county also has featured much growth. In addition, Divide serves as a central location for the Teller County government, housing the jail, a new $7 million-plus headquarters for the sheriff’s department and the public works facility.